I came across a fascinating post on my friend's sister's blog the other day detailing what it means to engage in a courtship. Courtships are relationships entered into where the focus is creating a relationship that sanctifies the Lord and working towards the goal of marriage. Often they are entered into after the man asks permission of the woman's parents (especially the father) to court their daughter. He then asks her her permission as well, sometimes in a very sweet way where he brings her a bouquet of flowers and asks her whether he can court her.
Assuming she says yes, they enter into a courtship with one another in order to understand more about one another and their service and devotion to the Lord. They are looking to see whether they will be one another's helpmates in service to God and also assessing the character traits and qualities that will enable them to take part in a beautiful marriage.
Joshua Harris, the Christian world's Gila Manolson, has written two books on this concept. The first, entitled I Kissed Dating Goodbye explains why he left the world of recreational dating in favor of courtship. The second, Boy Meets Girl: Say Hello to Courtship, details his courtship and marriage of his wife, Shannon.
I found this concept fascinating because it seems to echo aspects of our shidduch system, except in a sweeter way. Rather than exchanging references, sheets of paper, resumes and suchlike, a boy becomes interested in a girl (through meeting her at church, on a mission, or because the girl's father likes him and brings him to dinner) and asks permission of the parents and the girl herself to court her. It's very romantic.
I stumbled upon a site which contains lots of beautiful fairy tale stories of people who have engaged in Christian courtship and found their happily-ever-afters. You can read them here.
Two things seemed very striking to me as I paged through these stories of Christian courtship.
1) From reading their renditions of their stories on their blogs, it seems that the majority of these young women connect to God much more similarly to the way I do, where they talk to Him and pray to Him throughout the day and throughout their lives about anything and everything. It's like the Tevye-and-God relationship in "Fiddler on the Roof" which Dr. Haym Soloveitchik posits in "Rupture and Reconstruction" has mostly dissolved. It seems it has not dissolved amongst young devout Christians. So I felt a kinship towards this method of talking to God.
2) One of the things that seems far more positive about the Christian world than the Orthodox Jewish world is that they view single-hood as a special opportunity during which one can concentrate on one's calling, mission and service to the Lord. In fact, sometimes they even opt to stay single longer in order to continue working on their mission. There's a beautiful interview with the recently engaged Rebecca St. James where she speaks about this and says: "I think there’s a real delicate balance that God calls us to when we’re single. I don’t think he calls us to put our dreams on the shelf to the level that we’re just dead to it because then we’re not being true or honest. I think God calls us to come in our vulnerability as singles to God and say ‘Lord, I long for this, I really desire to be married, but I trust you with this dream."
I was trying to figure out what it would mean for us if we tried to take that idea of having a special calling or mission during singlehood and bring it to the Orthodox Jewish world. Many young Orthodox Jewish singles are already involved in organizations like ORA, Uri L'Tzedek, HASC or NCSY, so we have some of that service component. But the idea of taking singlehood in a positive way where God expects us to develop ourselves and serve him in a special way we would not be able to do once married (although we could then serve Him differently) charms me.